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An Image of Bounty

April 8th, 2014

renoir2

The following is an excerpt from one of my favorite books for any woman seeking to become well-fed. This particular passage is the prologue and when I read it, back in 2003, I was so moved that I had it printed on a t-shirt. I just needed to plaster these words on my chest because they captured so much of what I was awakening to in and of my own body. If these words cause you to have a certain kind of ache, then I ask you not to tune that out. If these words stir you, a part of you knows that they are medicine, truth, and art all in one.

Pass them on.

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The women linger at the water’s edge, and they are stunning in the most unusual way: large women, voluptuous, abundant, delighted. They lounge along the river bank, they lift their arms toward the sun, their hair ripples down their backs, which are smooth and broad and strong.

There is softness in the way they move, and also strength and sensuality, as though they revel in the feel of their own heft and substance.

Step back from the canvas, and observe, think, feel.

This is an image of bounty, a view of female physicality in which a woman’s hungers are both celebrated and undifferentiated, as though all her appetites are of a piece, the physical and the emotional entwined and given equal weight. Food is love on this landscape, and love is sex, and sex is connection, and connection is food; appetites exist in a full circle, or in a sonata where eating and touching and making love and feeling close are all distinct chords that nonetheless meld with and complement one another.

Renoir, who created this image, once said that were it not for the female body, he never could have become a painter. This is clear: there is love for women in each detail of the canvas, and love for self, and there is joy, and there is a degree of sensual integration that makes you want to weep, so beautiful it seems, and so elusive.

From Appetites: Why Women Want by Caroline Knapp

 

 

Sacred Ground

March 17th, 2014

peter.schroath

Peter Schroath. Trees, Tall Pine III

“…and your very flesh shall be a great poem…”

— Walt Whitman

Growing up just outside Washington, DC resulted in my childhood having it’s fair share of visits to historical sites, such as Civil War battlefields, like Gettysburg.

If you’ve ever been to a memorial site, especially one where great loss actually took place, you know that you can feel it. What you’re standing on at these places is sacred ground and each has a powerful energetic fingerprint. Perhaps you’ve felt it while visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, Auschwitz in Poland, or The Killing Fields Museum in Cambodia.

Sadly the world is full of sites where atrocities took place and left an imprint, physical or energetic.

In my early twenties as I was emerging victorious from my own battle with anorexia the only way I could relate to my body was as this sacred ground. While not visible to the eye, my body felt like modern day Gettysburg battlefield.

This flesh—my flesh—was where a war had been fought and won.

And what this meant to me was that anything less than sacred awe was not good enough.

In the years since then I have encountered in my life and in the lives of those I work with serious trauma. Childhood abuse. Sexual assault. Mental illness. Loss of parents and children. Battles with cancer. Amputation.

And it doesn’t take catastrophic incidents like these to leave trauma. Life is traumatic.

Life is traumatic and our bodies bare the brunt of it. They are our sensory input tool and they are where we experience (or repress) emotion. Our bodies are the tools or fight or flight…or freeze. Our bodies are the recipient of heinous cultural norms. Our bodies, depending on where we live in the world, aren’t even always considered our own.

Life is also miraculous. The ways in which our body heals, allows for connection, creates new life, and enables our lives is marvelous.

All this is to say: feel the sacred ground you are living in.

Feel that you are sacred in every cell of your body.

Stand in awe of not just what has happened on your ‘land’ but on what you have survived and created.

Stand tall.

Consider reverence as a new template for how you inhabit this flesh of yours.

Like Whitman says, your “flesh shall be a great poem”.

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If you could use some support and community around your own path to loving embodiment, consider joining me at Gather: Body Compassion in Seattle, Washington in May or Wise Body, Wise Hungers: Yoga & Coming Home to Your Desires in California over Labor Day Weekend. 

On bathing

March 6th, 2014

bath

My mom is a bath taker. I think the bathtub became her place of refuge when my sister and I were young. She even mastered the art of reading a book while bathing without getting the book wet. I always marveled at this. She likes her baths extra hot. I marvel at this too.

She used Avon Skin So Soft bath oil and that scent is forever linked to her in my mind. It left her skin silky and the tub slick with oil such that we had to be careful not to slip.

I wasn’t ever much of a bath taker until last year when I was hit with six months of tonsillitis (and a tonsillectomy). In that time of great discomfort nothing soothed me like being submerged in hot water.

In that time, where I’d take maybe two or three baths a day, I fell in love with this ritual.

In speaking to my landlady one day she told me that if you’re going to have rental property and you want female tenants that you’d better have a bathtub.

When I lived with roommates I never took baths as the communal shower never felt private, even when I was alone in it–or clean enough, even when I scrubbed it.

In my current home I have a peach bath tub surrounded by pink tiles from the 50′s. In my boyfriends place there is a newer white tub that gets professionally cleaned once a month. Neither allow for much neck support in a reclined position, but they’re big enough and deep enough.

My advice for bathing:

Before you get in, shut the door to the bathroom so the steam is captured. Lay out a fluffy, clean towel (a bath sheet if you have one) where you can reach it and put a bath mat down. Light a candle. Using a cup or recycled yogurt container, rinse out the tub. It need not be hotel-perfect, just free of stray hairs and such.

Plug the drain and begin the fill. Always a touch hotter than is comfortable. It will cool. Add any bath oil, salts, or bubbles that you like. Or nothing at all. Water is enough.

Turn the lights out and get in.

Pull the shower curtain closed if you can and let the water run until it’s just high enough to cover your ears, but not your face when you lay supine. Lay back. Listen to your own heart beat.

Notice how you no longer know what ‘cold to the bone’ even means.

Stay there. Release any urge to get out and be productive.

Receive. Soak. Shut the world out.

You might find yourself craving a mother. A mother to wrap you up in that towel after you’ve stayed in long enough. A mother to comb out your hair and prepare some warm milk. A mother to perch on the edge of the tub and listen as your uncertainties get washed away. You can be this mother.

Never get out before your fingers have turned to wrinkled prunes.

Never restrict yourself to bathing only after sundown or in winter.

On occasion listen to music or watch a movie simultaneously.

It’s quiet delightful to recline in extra hot water on a lazy brisk afternoon and watch whatever it is that makes you giggle.

Exfoliate. With scrub or pumice, let go of what’s old and dead.

Shave your legs only ever for yourself.

Make a point to come here often, especially when you are tired, contemplative, questioning, fried, chilled, afraid, melancholy, or dirty.

Most importantly though: never live anywhere without a bathtub. That would be like losing god’s phone number.

 

While I’m gone

February 19th, 2014

While I'm gone

Blue Deer

It’s not uncommon to have a house or pet sitter for when we’re on vacation. In such cases we often leave a list of to-do’s (“water the plants”), rules (“Don’t go in the basement”), and emergency contact information (“Call the neighbors, if…”) 

Perhaps the metaphor is stretched a bit here, but I’m headed to Taos tomorrow morning to teach and I thought your spirit could use a little reminder information while I’m gone.

Daily

  • Make the bed. Fluff the pillows.

  • Experience pleasure. As much as possible.

  • Talk kindly to your houseplants. If you don’t have a houseplant, get one.

  • Eat what your body and heart wants. Enjoy it.

  • Tell the truth.

  • Savor all the evidence that suggests you too are a perfectly, imperfect human. Take amusement in how much you resist this fact.

  • Marvel at your functioning anatomy.

  • Ask yourself “What am I truly hungry for?”

Once/Week

  • Make art. Big or small. Make something.

  • Smile at an animal or child.

  • Change your linens. Ask yourself: “Do I love my sheets/towels?” Listen to the answer.

  • Do something that reminds you just how connected and alike we all are.

    • : Visit Humans of New York or maybe PostSecret. Listen to The Moth.

    • : Attend a support or spiritual group…or any gathering of humans being real.

    • : As you see strangers, say to yourself silently, “I am them. They are me.”

  • Wear something from your closet you haven’t worn in the last 30 days. Rock it.

  • Call the oldest person you know and set aside at least thirty minutes to talk to them.

In case of emergency…

  • Call the person you trust the most and that has the biggest heart. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Allow yourself to be supported.

  • Go outside. Look at the sky. Breathe deeply. As if it were a new shade of paint, give the sky’s color a name.

  • Send  flowers or an actual letter to another human being.

  • Go on a photowalk. Capture things that start with all the letters in the alphabet, or all the colors in the rainbow, or just what looks interesting.

  • Write it all down. All of it. Don’t edit.

  • Consider your attitude.

Back Monday night.

xo, Rachel

Pleasuary

February 8th, 2014

pleasuary

Pure Pleasure

Last year my boyfriend declared February to be Pleasuary.

Lucky me, he has declared this to be an annual tradition.

Pleasuary, if it’s not clear from it’s name, is an entire month dedicated to pleasure.

There’s no real reason this needs to take place during February, although Pluly or Pleptember just doesn’t sound nearly as fun.

If you’re inspired to join me in celebrating Pleasuary here are a few pointers:

Giving vs Receiving

Pleasuary is perfect for those in a relationship where one person tends to be the giver and the other tends to be the receiver. For heterosexual couples, it is often the woman who tends to give and the man who tends to receive. If you relate to this dynamic, allow yourself to shift the natural order things for the month. Wear a new groove.

Try this: Make a pact. For the month of Pleasuary your job is to receive. Their job is to give. Rest into it. It might feel awkward. It will most certainly feel good.

If you’re single, decide that you’re going up the pleasure you give yourself and instead of feeling guilty about this, set the intention to truly receive what is given.

Feeling Safe vs Feeling Alive

Feeling good comes from so many different sources and there are infinite shades of good feelings. It’s important to differentiate between the good feelings that come from being comforted and the good feelings that can come from being outside our comfort zone.  Of course, we need a base line of feeling safe if we’re to dip our toe in more enlivening waters, but there is much pleasure to be experienced outside of our bubble of safety.

Try this: In your journal, brainstorm two lists: things that make you feel comforted and safe AND things that make you feel ecstatic, alive, and deeply pleasured. Then circle a few from each side that you want to make happen this month.

Quality and Quantity

This month is about both, quantity and quality. It’s about making pleasure part of the everyday. Upping the pleasure at breakfast. Upping the pleasure in our work. Upping the pleasure in the mundane and the extraordinary.

Try this: Make a list of 30 (or more) ways you want to receive pleasure and be about checking them off the list. Of course,  spontaneity is also part of this so don’t let a checklist keep you from new and sudden bursts of pleasure receiving.

In terms of quality of pleasure, this is the result of deep and open presence. Even thirty seconds of pleasure can be knee shaking if we are truly present. High quality pleasure is like fine cheese or good chocolate, the experience is so much more satisfying. A little goes a long way when we allow ourselves to drop into receiving and the sensations of feeling good.

Try this: Set aside time to turn off all electronics. Tune into your body. Pleasuary is an adventure of discovering what exactly gives you pleasure. And, it’s important to know that you don’t have to know right now. In fact, you most certainly don’t know all the ways that you can experience pleasure. Play a sort of ‘Marco Polo’ pleasure game where simply allowing yourself (and your partner) to go towards what’s ‘warm’ and away from what’s ‘cold’.

Sense-uality & Indulgence

Pleasuary is not wholly about knocking boots. Pleasuary is about attunement of the senses to good feelings and expanding our capacity for pleasure.

Try this: List all the ways you might experience pleasure through your different five senses then attempt to saturate yourself with pleasure from all of these entry points.

The definition of indulge is to “allow oneself the experience of pleasure.” On that note, if you’re game for the Pleasuary, go indulge! Soak it in. Green light your enjoyment. Hand out the permission slips. Decide to taste, smell, touch, listen, and see it fully.

Happy Pleasuary!

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If you’re wanting more pleasure and enjoyed this post you can read more of my thoughts on feeling good in P is for Pleasure

A sweet middle path

January 30th, 2014

Arrows by Bethan Janine

Arrows 

Sugar, specifically white refined sugar, has gotten a bad rap.

While I typically abide by a “to each their own” approach to food, it seems that lately there has been a deluge of bloggers ‘coming out’ about their sugar-free lifestyle.

To many this seems logical and saintly. To me this is yet another extreme shift of the dietary pendulum that leaves people swinging between restriction and over consumption, more obsessed with food and less at ease in life

Out of a desire to offer a different perspective and perhaps provide a middle path, I bring you my thoughts on the matter. This post isn’t for the nutrition police who have, for the time being, made up their mind. This is for those of you lost in the middle of a world that plies you with sugary sodas and tells you it’s poison at the same time.

Here are six thoughtful ‘spoonfuls’:

Thoughtful Spoonful #1 A sweet role model on the sweet middle path…

Henry Ware. “Hal” to most. Grandpa, or more often Bapa, to me.

At 91, my grandfather lives alone, remains active, and, for his age, is very healthy. He’s also eaten dessert nearly everyday of his life. [Cue needle scratch]

When I hear of people saying sugar is poison I simply call him up and reminisce about the lemon meringue pie I used to bake with my grandmother. It was so delicious.

Thoughtful Spoonful # 2: When there is nothing to rebel against…

In my experience, when I have something to rebel against, I rebel. When I have nothing to rebel against, I’m free and travelling an easeful middle path. A no-sugar rule would, and has, in my more restrictive days, made me straight-up bonkers. Being a freedom-junkie is what has kept me from being a sugar-junkie.

Thoughtful Spoonful #3: Play food has a place…

Here’s an excerpt from a favorite book of mine, Intuitive Eating:

“Sometimes you have a desire for food that has no nutritionally redemptive powers. We call this food play food. We prefer this term to one of the most commonly used terms to describe what’s considered unhealthy foods–junk food. The term junk food implies that there is no intrinsic value in this food–in fact, that it probably should be thrown in the garbage can. But we feel that this thinking is unwarranted. There are times when a piece of red velvet cake or a stick of licorice is just the food that will satisfy your taste buds. And eating these types of foods doesn’t mean you are an unhealthy eater.”

I have often found important, health-promoting, value in foods with little nutritional value.

Thoughtful Spoonful #4: Every body is wise…

I trust my body implicitly. This is a hard won fact. Most of the time my body, and most well-fed, well-pleasured bodies, don’t crave tons of sugar. Carbohydrates? Yes. My body and brain love carbohydrates. They keep me full, happy, functioning.

With my body leading the way I haven’t been lead straight to the firey hell of Candy Land…just to a sweet middle path.

Thoughtful Spoonful #5: The secret ingredient…

Food is way more than just a sum of it’s macro and micronutrients. Michael Pollan calls this misconception nutritionism. The truth is that there are intangibles in food that we can’t quantify. For example, why does, for some of us, our mother’s version of a dish taste so much better than our own?  The answer is something we can’t see under a microscope or write into a recipe. Food, if we pay attention, has (or doesn’t have) soul to it. A factor often ignored when we eliminate whole categories of food.

Thoughtful Spoonful #6: Pleasure as a food group…

Speaking of intangibles in food. I’ve found that just like I can eat a diet deficient in fat or Vitamin C, I can be deficient in pleasure. I’ve learned to treat pleasure like a food group with a hearty dose of daily servings. This is how I feel most well-fed and this sometimes includes sugar.

Thoughtful Spoonful #6: We’re all moderators…

Some people argue that people can be divided into moderators and abstainers – people who have just a little of something and people who can’t. I balk at this argument.

In my experience, an inability to “have just a little” of something is a result of the pendulum swing that occurs for everyone where there is some sort of psychological belief that the item is scarce (“Remember, you only get to eat this when you’re on vacation”) or shouldn’t be eaten (“Good thing no one is here to see you stuffing your face with this naughty food”). When we truly feel free to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, in any quantity we want we naturally find that we don’t overdo much. In my experience, overdoing is a result of compensation for some form of restriction. Moderation is the result of being free and deeply trusting oneself.

Thoughtful Spoonful #6: Information overload…

Lest you think I’m clueless about nutrition and sugar’s effect on our bodies, rest assured that I know my omega-3’s from my omega-6s. At the height of my own eating disorder I was a walking nutritional encyclopedia. I also spent three years spent earning my master’s degree in holistic health education where I studied everything from the USDA guidelines to Ayurvedic eating approaches; raw food to the Weston A. Price approach; Chinese medicine to eco-political food systems.

In the end, I believe we suffer from a dangerous mix of information overload, food paranoia, and body disconnection.

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I don’t want to live a life without sugar. I’m all for taking into account what my body and our planet need in order to be healthy, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my mental health for it. I also think the answer is always somewhere in shades of gray, not in the black and white approach of forgoing sugar all together. Turns out I don’t have to. Thank goodness.

So this is the path I have chosen: turn down the noise, ignore fads of the moment, aim for a middle path (all things in moderation, including moderation), restrict nothing, listen to my body, pay attention to the seasons and where my food comes from, and deeply enjoy sweet foods when I want them.

Just say it.

January 20th, 2014

Like clockwork, on the full moon, I have insomnia.

This past week when the sky was aglow and the lunar calendar was turning over a page I had an urge to listen to spoken word poetry.

From about two a.m. to five I drank up some of the most stirring orations I’ve ever heard. I love this slam-ing medium of communication. It feels like a river that runs below our surface of striving. When a spoken word poet hits their flow the performance piece fades away and it’s just raw, rolling emotive breath and sound.

Here are a group of talented, brave poetic women just saying it. Perhaps it’ll keep you company during your next moon-lit awakening.

Whoa line: “…still hoping that the mortician finds us fuckable and attractive…”

Whoa line: “…deny myself the right to be shown myself…”

Whoa line: “…Eve was made naked, no makeup, no weave…”

Whoa line: “…The body is not to be prayed for, it’s to be prayed to…”

Whoa line: “…’cause there is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it’s sent away.”

Whoa line: “Dear Cosmo: Fuck you! I will not take your sex tips on how to please a man you do not think my body will ever be worthy of.”

Whoa line: “I have been taught to grow in.”

Whoa line: “…women who will prowl 30 stores in six malls to find the right cocktail dress, but haven’t a clue where to find fulfillment or how to wear joy”

Whoa line: “When they call you full of yourself”, say, “Yes.” 

Whoa line: ”…Van Gogh’s irregularities outweigh clean lines and clarity…”

Whoa line: “…Where are the words for the rest of me?”

Whoa line: “…It’s terrifying to have had to learn first not who I was but how I was seen…”

Your Hungers Are Your North Star

January 15th, 2014

Kristin Noelle for Rachel Cole

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Let this brilliant drawing from Kristin Noelle be an invitation to turn your seeking inward–to listen to your own inner call of where to go next.

Kristin Noelle is a Los Angeles-based illustrator. She creates soulful art that fosters a worldview of trust. Find her at www.kristinnoelle.com and be sure to check out Blessings - a free, 10-day series of inspired, illustrated blessings.

 

In Praise of Awkward Toddlers

January 14th, 2014

leftfeet

Feet

As a child, if I couldn’t be assured that I’d do something right the first time, I didn’t even want to try at all. The result of this fearful stance was that I didn’t learn to swim (until I nearly drowned and my parents insisted) or to ride a bike (I’m still working on this).

What I’m talking about is the resistance we feel to being less-than-masterful at anything. We loathe performing awkwardly, even though this is a precursor to doing anything more gracefully.

Embracing our inner awkward toddler crucial if we’re to find our way to being well-fed. Like toddlers learning to walk, this is the two-step we must do: Toddle forward. Trip. Stand up. Toddle some more. Go splat on the floor. Get up. Toddle again.

Towards the end of 2013 I looked around my life and saw that everything was fine.

Fine.

Fine is good.

Fine is important if we’re to function in the world.

But fine is not enough.

Feeling fine isn’t the same as feeling alive or particularly satiated. Fine is just fine.

What I know: the only way through to what’s really good in life is to embrace being awkward for at least a time.

In the spirit of embracing more of this energy in my life I’ve started back attending Laurie Wagner’s brilliant Wild Writing classes wherein we instructed to write poorly, pen to paper, and then share it with the group. It’s awkward strength training at it’s best.

This Sunday I’m attending my first 5Rhythms practice where for two hours I’ll move my often-less-than-coordinated body to the music amidst a crowd of strangers. I’m not sure if it will be a practice in managing my inner critic or the holiest fun I’ve had in my life–or both.  I want to find out.

What you and I have in common is a hunger to feel alive. To feel more than fine. This I know.

As a little girl, my fear of being criticized trumped my hunger to feel alive, to have fun, to ride a bike, or to swim in the lake.

As a grown women, though, I’ve learned that external sources of criticism don’t matter and that I can soften around my own.

As a grown women, I’ve learned that being awkward is just one exhilarating step toward being well-fed.

A Word for 2014

January 7th, 2014

It’s an unexpected contradiction that after a month of making over my home – purging, deep cleaning, organizing, painting, new furniture – that the theme for January would appear to be: messy.

Now messy isn’t my word for the year, I’ll get to that in a minute, but it does feel like the word for right now. In order to find my groove I need to splash a little in the mud. I need to play a little more. Write more shitty first drafts. Dance a bit more awkwardly.

This morning my boyfriend told me he dreamt that I was standing naked in a house and all the walls disappeared and I was just standing there naked. The house was on a busy street and everyone could see me. In his dream I wasn’t concerned, embarrassed, or rushing to cover up. While there won’t be any nude photos to kick of the year, I like the sentiment of this vision: get more naked.

We’re all so practiced at wearing masked. We know how to please people, wow to show them what they want to see and hide what we fear might bring rejection. Your good at it. I’m good at it. I’m also good at taking off the masks. It’s a practice.

And it’s through this practice that I’ve come to know that bearing oneself just a bit more isn’t something we master. New masks are always itching to be put on. It’s just too easy to edit what’s real out of the picture. Yet when we do this–when I do this–what follows is always a longing to be seen, connected, heard, and free.

So in the spirit of taking off the mask and getting messy I’m ready to share my word for the year. It seemed fitting then to make an honest, unpolished, unrehearsed, unscripted, make-up free-in-my-pajamas-while-having-the-flu video.